Monday, March 05, 2007

Comparing Raw PEF and DNG Converters for Pentax Files, Spring 2007, Part 2

Part 1 | Part 2. Comparing 1:1 Crops | Part 3

In Part 1, I explained the experiment, but let me recap. I took a photo that I would "develop" in 6 different Raw converters using a similar recipe each time. Even though the recipe might not be the optimal way to finish the image properly, I would resist tweaking with every app so the results would allow me to see their idiosyncrasies more quickly. For example, I made the WB adjustment to 5500K only, rather than try to eliminate any additional color casts, and I didn't process for the best sharpness or noise reduction. So, yes, I sabotaged their results by refusing to calibrate the apps beyond the defaults they had for supporting the camera, my *ist DS.

1. Photoshop CS3 versus Lightroom

The first Raw conversion I did to start the experiment is with Photoshop CS3. This is my tried and true workflow, using Adobe Bridge to edit metadata, then opening the PEF in ACR to develop, and then finishing in Photoshop with USM and Smart Blur. I used the image from this process as my "control image," and I feel the results are acceptable enough for the experiment, although I would normally shoot for more detail and better color.

From there, I moved on to the most similar software, Lightroom 1.0.

Left: Photoshop CS3, Right: Lightroom 1.0

Right away, you can see that Lightroom's sharpening and noise reduction are a bit weak and can't compete with even a little USM and Smart Blur. However, everything else is identical, because they are both using ACR 3.7.

2. Photoshop CS3 versus Pentax Photo Lab 3.0

Left: Photoshop CS3, Right: Pentax Photo Lab 3.10

Pentax Photo Lab, using an engine licensed from Silkypix, shows that Pentax's software processes their own images better than most people would guess. The image looks crisp and the white balance is spot on, compared to the slight blue cast in Photoshop, despite that they are both dialed into 5500K. PPL also does amazing noise reduction in the reds, but unfortunately it cancels out the really fine detail unless you push the sharpening more than I did with the recipe (limited to around 50% to 66%.)

3. Photoshop CS3 versus Silkypix Dev Studio 3

Left: Photoshop CS3, Right: SILKYPIX Developers Studio 3

While Photoshop still has the edge on sharpness here, Silkypix handles the noise reduction and coloring perfectly. One of the benefits of using Silkypix over Pentax Photo Lab is that you have more options for adjustments for sharpness and noise reduction, so below you can see that when I increase the sharpness in Silkypix, it brings out an amazing amount of detail, although the grain gets accentuated, too. But like I said yesterday, sharpening is something that is subjective to the final print size, not 1:1 crops, so this isn't something to lose sleep over.

Left: SILKYPIX Emphatic Sharp setting, Right: SILKYPIX Noise Reduction Priority

4. Photoshop CS3 versus Bibble Pro 4.9.5

Left: Photoshop CS3, Right: Bibble Pro 4.9.5

Bibble is another program that gets the color just about right, and the licensed "Noise Ninja" settings do a good job of eliminating the worst of the ASA 400 with a low setting. I have no doubt if I pushed it, Noise Ninja could deliver a nearly perfect image. But what's neat to compare is what happens when you use Bibble's licensed luminance booster "Perfectly Clear."

Left: Bibble Normal, Right: Bibble using Perfectly Clear

The image is brightened to a similar luminance that I saw earlier in PPL3, so let's look at those two images side by side.

Left: Bibble Pro 4.9.5 with Perfectly Clear, Right: Pentax Photo Lab 3

Bibble has a bit more noise (though Noise Ninja can handle it, if I were to tweak), but it also has more detail. However, they both handle colors very similarly.

5. Photoshop CS3 versus Aperture 1.5.2

Left: Photoshop CS3, Right: Aperture 1.5.2

Aperture handles the level of detail much better than ACR, but there's nearly no noise reduction, and the bluish color cast is still there, even though 5500K is properly set as the WB in both PS and Aperture.

6. Photoshop CS3 versus Raw Developer 1.6.2

Left: Photoshop CS3, Right: Raw Developer 1.6.2

Now this one took me by surprise. The WB for 5500K is really far off the mark and there's a obvious amber hue. Otherwise, just like Aperture 1.5.2, Raw Developer brings out plenty of detail and sharpness, even though I would need to introduce even more noise reduction to eliminate the obvious grain in the red area.

Next up, conclusions...


Matthew Miller said...

Thanks for the interesting comparison. Do you think you could add another program to the mix? I'd love to see how the commercial offerings compare to the open source program UFRaw. It runs on many platforms (including OS X and MS Windows) and lists your *ist DS as a supported camera. (And the K100D, but not the K10D yet.)

Anonymous said...

I'm missing the fine RAW converter CaptureOne from PhaseOne.

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